After several dismal seasons, the Chicago Cubs seem to finally be on the upswing, a point they can further establish Sunday with a third consecutive series win.
They'll be up against the San Diego Padres' Andrew Cashner, whose trade from Chicago more than three years ago kickstarted the Cubs' entire rebuilding process.
Cashner (0-2, 4.09 ERA) made his major league debut with the Cubs (6-4) in 2010, and was traded to San Diego (7-5) on Jan. 6, 2012, in exchange for Anthony Rizzo - one of the first major transactions under President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein.
The right-hander struggled in his first start at Wrigley Field following the trade, allowing four runs in four innings on May 1, 2013, but he rebounded with a dominating effort against the Cubs in San Diego on August 25, 2013, allowing two hits in seven scoreless innings.
After struggling in his season debut, Cashner allowed four unearned runs and struck out nine over six innings Monday in an 8-4 loss to Arizona.
"I felt that I had some of the best stuff I've had in a long time," Cashner told MLB's official website. "I was staying tall in my delivery, a lot better getting the ball down. I made a couple mistakes, but overall I thought it was a positive outing."
Cashner's key matchup Sunday will be with the middle of Chicago's order, namely Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The Cubs' All-Star first baseman had two hits and scored the game-winning run in Saturday's 7-6 11-inning victory, while Bryant went 2 for 3 with three walks and an RBI in his second MLB game.
"You're always looking for good at-bats and being a good decision-maker. He was that today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Bryant.
The Cubs did not reach six wins until at least the 18th game in each of the last three seasons. A victory in the finale would give them seven wins in the first 11 games for the first time since 2009.
Jon Lester (0-1, 7.84) looks to secure his first victory in a Chicago uniform. He allowed six runs and 10 hits in six innings of an extra-inning 7-6 win over Cincinnati on Monday, following a disappointing season debut on April 5 in which he gave up three runs and eight hits while failing to escape the fifth inning.
"Obviously I haven't hit my stride yet," said Lester, whose innings were limited in spring training due to arm fatigue. "But I don't want to use anything as a crutch, by any means. Things have to be better ... I'll get back to being the front end of that chain instead of the back end and letting guys down. It'll be better."
Perhaps most noticeable in Lester's poor start Monday was his errant pickoff throw to first base in the second inning, marking his first start with a pickoff attempt since April 30, 2013.
Still, its the Cubs who are most likely to be active on the basepaths. They are 12 for 14 in stolen base attempts this season - 5 for 5 this series - while San Diego has six steals this season and none in the last five games.
Matt Kemp hit his first home run of the year Saturday to continue the torrid pace set by San Diego's outfield. Justin Upton homered in consecutive games Tuesday and Wednesday, and Wil Myers hit a go-ahead three-run shot in Friday's 5-4 win over Chicago.
Upton departed after the 10th inning Saturday due to a slight strain of his left quad. Manager Bud Black said Upton is day-to-day.